After the madhouses: the emotional politics of psychiatry and community care in the UK tabloid press 1980–1995

AHP readers may be interested in a new piece in Medical Humanities: “After the madhouses: the emotional politics of psychiatry and community care in the UK tabloid press 1980–1995” by Leah Sidi. Abstract:

The deinstitutionalisation of mental hospital patients made its way into UK statutory law in 1990 in the form of the NHS and the Community Care Act. The Act ushered in the final stage of asylum closures moving the responsibility for the long-term care of mentally ill individuals out of the NHS and into the hands of local authorities. This article examines the reaction to the passing of the Act in two major tabloid presses, The Sun and The Daily Mirror, in order to reveal how community care changed the emotional terrain of tabloid storytelling on mental health. Reviewing an archive of 15 years of tabloid reporting on mental illness, I argue that the generation of ‘objects of feeling’ in the tabloid media is dependent on the availability of recognisable and stable symbols. Tabloid reporting of mental illness before 1990 reveals the dominance of the image of the asylum in popular understandings of mental illness. Here the asylum is used to generate objects of hatred and disgust for the reader, even as it performs a straightforward othering and distancing function. In these articles, the image of the asylum and its implicit separation of different types of madness into categories also do normative gender work as mental illness is represented along predictable gendered stereotypes. By performing the abolition of asylums, the 1990 Act appears to have triggered a dislodging of these narrative norms in the tabloid press. After 1990, ‘asylum stories’ are replaced with ‘community care stories’ which contain more contradictory and confusing clusters of feeling. These stories rest less heavily on gendered binaries while also demonstrating a near-frantic desire on the part of the mass media for a return of institutional containment. Here, clusters of feeling becoming briefly ‘unstuck’ from their previous organisations, creating a moment of affective flux.

About Jacy Young

Jacy Young is a professor at Quest University Canada. A critical feminist psychologist and historian of psychology, she is committed to critical pedagogy and public engagement with feminist psychology and the history of the discipline.